Well. It’s that time again. Time to dust off the ol’ CV and walk around the West End handing CVs to stage door keepers, hoping that you’ve got the timing just right so your CV is the first one the Chief sees.
The first show I worked on to get its notice was Dirty Dancing and I decided not to stay until the end. I took a job on a new musical called Lend Me a Tenor which unfortunately got its notice four months into the run – so far the only show I’ve opened and closed. The next show was The Wizard of Oz. We found out it was closing via the posters – no one ever actually came and told us that we were closing!
It’s a strange feeling when you do finally get confirmation that you’re going to be out of work. During the lead up to the actual meeting there are rumours flying around the theatre, the West End and annoyingly on message boards like Broadwayworld and WhatsonStage. When the announcement is made or the poster is put up at stage door letting you know there is a full company meeting you know what’s coming – now it’s really just a question of when.
Dirty Dancing got five months notice. Lend Me a Tenor got two weeks. I’m not sure what The Wizard of Oz was, I think the date went up on the posters maybe six months before. We Will Rock You has three months, which has been the biggest surprise. I always thought that WWRY would be the type of show to go out with a huge advertising campaign but things have changed a lot in the West End.
WWRY has been a fixture in the West End my entire professional working life and was the first West End production I ever saw (in 2002, not long after it opened). I never really thought that I’d end up not only working it but seeing it out at the end.
It’s going to be very strange going past the Dominion Theatre and not seeing Freddie.
Everyone and his dog knows that ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ hasn’t been doing great business, the climate for new musicals not based on a film is hostile and we haven’t helped matters with the ticket prices… and I don’t think the show was given much support by the people at Cameron Mackintosh’s office – announcing the next show into the Gielgud before we’d opened (‘Ladykillers’ announced 6th June, our first preview was 2nd June) that we’d already been given our notice, coupled with the huge amount of free tickets that were given away it really didn’t look good.
They didn’t just announce the next show, they blitzed it with press releases on the BBC and everything. I think people could be forgiven thinking that Cameron Mackintosh is out to eliminate competition for his own failing new musical, part of me feels a bit like that (memo to any theatre operators: having the next show measuring up the stage during the about-to-open shows plotting session is beyond bad manners). I remember coming through Piccadilly Circus on the day after we opened to find the ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ poster I’d previously passed every day was changed to a ‘Betty Blue Eyes’ poster, coincidence or a more nefarious plot? Whoever does the poster putting up on tube needs to be spoken to, I keep going past posters for ‘The Umbrella’s of Cherbourg’ (closed 21st May) and ‘Sign of the Times’ (closed 2nd April)!
It was no surprise then there was a message during the evening show on Saturday 17th June that there was a company meeting after the show – a very emotional producer and Ian Talbort (director) told us that they had no option but to pull the show, Saturday 6th August would be our last performance. When they gave us our notice on ‘Dirty Dancing’ no one seemed particularly affected by it (I may have smiled and bounced around a bit) but there were people close to or in tears for this and rightly so, it is the only new musical in the West End that it is not based on a film (or a jukebox musical) and it’s a bloody good show. I think theatre critics have forgotten how to react to non-film/jukebox musicals, they’re so used to seeing something clobbered together and held by sticky tape that they don’t know how to deal when presented with a tight musical with great original songs and a beautiful solid-looking set.
The other downside to loosing this musical is that once again I’m out of work, and this time without a redundancy payment. It’s not great for work at the moment, there are plenty of musicals closing and being replaced with plays. I have a few people to call on Monday, but I’m just fortunate to have three weeks remaining at the Opera House.
Reviews are out for ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ and they’re… well, not great.
The West End Whingers ‘reviewed’ us before press night (black mark in my book), they went in expecting to hate it and hated it christening it ‘Lend Me a Pillow’ – I doubt you could sleep through the show, there’s too much laughing from the audience, door slamming and general hilarity. To be honest, even though I read the WEW blog I don’t really take them seriously, I have for a long time thought that they give good reviews to the shows they’ve been invited to by producers who have caught on to the ‘anonymous’ free publicity blogs can give. They do this rubbish about covering their faces in photographs, trying to gain some notoriety I suppose in a sort of “ooh, we’re edgy and if producers knew who we were they’d bar us from seeing the show.” way.
The Guardian gave us 3 stars but the review itself is a bit snooty as they don’t like that a farce has a ‘moral’ (!!). The Times gave us a brilliant review (4 stars) and it looks like that reviewer from The Times was more in-tune with the audience – they almost gave it three stars but the audience’s enjoyment swayed them (“My fourth star hovered for a while, uncertain: it was won by the unforced glee of the preview audience. For it’s a good-hearted show with real laughs: not to be sniffed at.”) The Stage absolutely loved it saying “…this is by far and away the most accomplished musical comedy opening in the West End this season.” I don’t think The Evening Standard stayed for the second act, they agree with the West End Whingers and I have to say – if the Evening Standard reviewer thinks that the tunes are instantly forgettable I’d love to know his secret, I’ve hummed ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ ever since the technical! It is interesting that the ‘reviewer’ gave it 2 stars but the reader rating is 4 stars. (Update: The Arts Desk gave us a good review “…it’s not “Lend me a pillow”, as one vicious wagster put it, but “Take me again”. And if you like to see showbiz staging at its slick, frivolous best, you shouldn’t miss it either.”)
Audiences and critics are in disagreement here, the audiences we’ve had have loved the show and even if we’ve only had two levels open and have barely filled them we get standing ovations, cheers… all the signals that the audience is having a great time. Hopefully then it’ll be word of mouth and social media that sells the show.
I can’t tell you how nice it is to work on a show where everyone in it is a very talented professional. Saturday night the lead, Max (Damian Humbley) fumbled the wine bottle thrown to him by Tito (Michael Matus), dropped it and slipped over in the broken glass cutting his arm pretty badly (he went to A&E after the show) – watching from the spots we could see his shirt sleeve getting redder and he seemed to bleed all over Tito in the bed – he carried on with everything regardless, even directing cast away from the glass/water on stage. Major kudos and he got a well deserved cheer at the end. Saturday night was a bit of a show for things going wrong, in the second act Cassidy Jansen’s (playing Maggie) dress came undone during her number with the in-disguise Max – audience had a good giggle, stage management didn’t know what was going on and I managed to muck up my spot cue in trying to let them know over cans (I don’t have a clip on my belt pack so it was on the spot stand and my spot ‘wanders’ if you don’t keep a tight hold of it). There’s a line in the show that’s something like “from this point forward, there is nothing that could possibly go wrong.” – it got the biggest laugh of the night.
Maybe they could use it for a bit of publicity – the cast literally bleed for their art 😛